Cornell University Library's Approach to the Reformatting of Deteriorating Paper
1. Background and Rationale.
Over the last several years, the steps taken throughout the world to try to change this situation have been four-fold:
Simply storing away books with deteriorating paper is not a viable solution for research libraries. When acidic paper deteriorates, it does not fall into dust, but it becomes so brittle that even careful and moderate use causes destruction. Thus the notion of simply storing acidic paper copies falls down on two levels. Firstly, safe storage makes access difficult, especially if many libraries share the same storage facility and paper copy. Secondly, once a fragile book or document is used, it is often rendered incomplete by gradual loss of the text.
2. Current Policies and Practices.
These criteria are applied to two kinds of paper library materials:
a. Materials from Circulation. When books with deteriorating paper are discovered after circulation, the Library first attempts to purchase a replacement reprint on sound paper. If a reprint is unavailable, the Library creates a paper facsimile copy of the item in accordance with fair use guidelines. If the work is multi-volume, however, it is usually replaced by microfilm. If it is felt that the original deteriorating copy has some artifactual value--important signatures or annotations, for example--it is transferred to the Rare and Manuscript Collection. The Library's general disposition policy can be found at http//www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/DisPolicy.html.
b. Materials of National Significance. Many of Cornell's collections are of national and international importance, so maintaining these collections in usable condition is a grave responsibility. Collections that contain large quantities of deteriorating paper are microfilmed using federal grant funds, and the original copies are retained in closed stack storage. Examples of such collections include Southeast Asian literature, Peruvian literature, and Icelandic literature. In some instances, collections are digitized, and paper facsimiles are created from the digital image to ensure that paper copies are still available at the shelf while the originals are stored.
Because the quality of microfilm produced to national standards is very high, it lends itself easily to digitization, thus it will be possible to scan from the microfilm in the future to create network accessible resources. Such high quality microfilm is routinely produced in all of Cornell's microfilm projects.